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Summit in Red Lake encourages members to grow their own food

Allen Mickey, left, and Vincent Johnson serve meals at the third annual food summit at Red Lake Nation College on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
From left: Angela Ferguson, Warren Miller and Roger Cook discuss seeds at the third annual food summit at Red Lake Nation College on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

RED LAKE -- Peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, onions -- this was the first year that Randy White, Sr., grew his own food in Red Lake.

And it’s White’s second year working at a community garden in Redby, where he’s part of a team of people growing potatoes, carrots, kale, peppers, jalapenos, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, celery, tomatoes and herbs.

It’s called the Gitigaanike Foods Initiative Garden, and it’s an arm of 4-Directions Development, which is hosting its third-annual food summit at Red Lake Nation College.

That’s where White sat on Friday with daughter Sophia Brun in his lap. His kids head to work with him at the Gitigaanike garden, where they play and occasionally help out. Their interest in White’s job prompted him to start a garden of his own.

“They wanted a garden,” White said.

On Friday, the two-day summit featured lectures on agricultural resources for farmers, food security, and indigenous ecological sustainability, among other topics. Saturday is set to showcase a bevy of outdoor food demonstrations and samples -- smoked fish, hominy, canning, bow and arrow making, and more -- plus an obstacle course.

The summit is designed to encourage Red Lake band members to grow their own food, a practice organizers said has health and economic benefits. The summit and Gitigaanike garden are parts of a broader initiative of the same name that aims to decrease diet-related health issues such as diabetes, make local healthy foods more accessible, and develop a “local foods economy” in which band members might sell the produce they grow.

White said he’s busier, more active, and stronger now that he gardens regularly. And he said he’s saving money eating his homegrown food.

Next to the college’s parking lot, workers sold some of the Gitigaanike produce at a small farmer’s market stand.

Pumpkins, zucchini, squash, corn, rice -- Jack Desjarlait’s been growing his own food for 40 years. He harvests more than he needs, he said, so he sells or donates his surplus.

“Grandpa did it, aunties did it, everybody in our family -- we’re not farmers, but gardeners,” Desjarlait said. (He said he headed to the summit to visit friends.) “I'm just carrying on what I was taught how to do, and it all comes back to being self-sufficient. If anything ever happens and all those stores aren't there no more, that ain't gonna hopefully affect me because I have my supply and stuff. I'm not no survivalist or nothing, but I was taught how to survive. I was taught what I needed to know, how to rice and how to garden, how to hunt, how to fish.”

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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